June 1, 2006

 Ice Age Mammals and Prehistoric Beasts

Terrific temporary exhibits are a big reason that Notebaert Nature Museum is a regular visit for my family. The new Ice Age Mammals and Prehistoric Beasts exhibit is no exception. Perfectly timed to coincide with the popular “Ice Age” movies, kids can now learn real facts and see these prehistoric creatures in action.

We chose to visit on a weekday, hoping to avoid crowds and were lucky enough to have the small exhibit to ourselves. From outside the entrance we could see the animatronic beasts, which surprised me. I did not realize that all the creatures we would see would be moving and making sounds. Even my 18 month-old was eager to get a closer look.

Once inside, it’s easy for kids to explore on their own. There are only 10 robotic creatures, plus displays of modern-day animals which date back to prehistoric times. The floor-plan is open and easy to navigate, even with a stroller. The information is also clearly presented with very interesting “factoids.” I especially loved the dictionary-style pronunciations for the scientific names. Can you say “hyracotherium?” The museum provides a sort of scavenger hunt quiz that encourages visitors to read signs carefully. Even though my boys are too young to read, they were still eager to make sure I filled in every blank.

From the very first stop, it is clear the exhibit’s designers tried to make the scenes true to life. I was honestly startled to see a giant prehistoric bird about to feast on a quivering miniature horse. But my five year-old thought it was the coolest thing he’d ever seen. Later, there is a scene of a small saber-toothed cat clamped on to a giant sloth. My boys looked for a few minutes and then asked me who was eating whom.

We also thought it was interesting that some of the creatures we were looking at lived in the Chicago area. “You mean we could dig up a Wooly Mammoth in our sandbox?” wondered my four-year-old. The exhibit also points out where similar types of artifacts can be found at other area museums and nature centers, such as the bones of the Australopithecus “Lucy” at the Field Museum. Since we spend a lot of time in museums, it will be nice to refer back to Ice Age when we see these artifacts.

Although we only spent about 20 minutes in this exhibit, its impact has been great on my boys. The dinner conversation was an extended story of giant armadillos and sloths engaged in an epic battle and my sons have already asked to go back again. Alena Murguia

Notebaert Nature Museum is located at 2430 N. Cannon Dr., just off Lake Shore Drive at Fullerton in Lincoln Park. Exhibit admission is $3, $2 for museum members. General museum admission is $7, $5 students and seniors, $4 kids 3-12, free 3 and under.. Admission to the museum, not the exhibit, is free on Thursdays. (773) 755-5100, www.naturemuseum.org

“Wired to Win”: New Film Integrates Elite Biking with Wonders of Human Brain 

“Wired to Win: Surviving the Tour de France” offers an opportunity to avoid summer’s brain drain by actually learning about the inner workings of the brain.  The new film now showing at the Museum of Science and Industry’s Omnimax theater tells the true story of two riders, Australian Baden Cooke and French teammate Jimmy Casper, as they compete in the grueling 2,112-mile, three-week-long race. “Wired to Win” moves seamlessly from intense action and stunning scenery to computer-generated imagery showcasing the latest in neuroscience.

Using elaborate digital and medical imaging technology, you see how the cyclists integrate an enormous amount of information and then call on the brain to respond to situations like pain, fatigue, flagging motivation, imminent danger and more. While Lance Armstrong does make a brief appearance, the real thrill is watching Cooke and Casper as they compete for the green sprinter’s jersey.

“It showed how the riders experienced a situation, sent information to the brain and how the brain figured it out.  It was really cool,” said my nine-year-old daughter Jordan.  Monica Ginsburg

“Wired to Win” runs through Jan. 11. Museum admission plus Omnimax: $16 adult city residents; $11.25 kids 3-11.  See website for showtimes and to purchase tickets.  Advanced ticket purchase recommended.  The Museum of Science and Industry is located at 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. (773) 684-1414, www.msichicago.org.

Kids Eat Chicago

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